22 October 1999

Calf demand firms, finishers still prudent

By Simon Wragg

DEMAND for suckled calves is driving prices forward after a disappointing trade last year, but finishers are determined to keep hold of their profits and will not pay over the odds, warn auctioneers.

Stock looks fit after a favourable seasons grazing. As a result the market has got off to an earlier start with numbers forward also up on last year, say auctioneers.

"While consignors may expect more money they are unlikely to get it," says Robin Anderson of Wallets Marts, Castle Douglas.

Prices are reasonable, he says. Yearlings in last weeks sale saw bullocks up 17p/kg to £1.04/kg and heifers up 10p/kg to 81p/kg. At those prices finishers should return a profit. And trade is tempting buyers out, he adds. The earlier start could see suckled calf markets ending prematurely in January instead of stretching into March, but only if the current pace is maintained. "That would be a change."

Trade has also shown a marked upturn at Hexham. Auctioneer Trevor Simpson reports averages are up £54 a head on last year. Bullocks on blue tickets are selling at £1/kg and those on green at £1.15/kg. "If profits had been bad last year we wouldnt have seen many of these buyers back."

Even so, calf buyers are being selective with better money being reserved for the fleshy sorts, says Ian Tomlie of United Auctions Dingwall mart. Although not wanting to talk the market down, he adds heifers are "difficult" compared with a very satisfactory steer trade. Many buyers are looking at 70p-80p/kg for heifers compared with over £1/kg for bullocks/steers.

With 2000 single suckled calves to be sold off Exmoor next week, Tom Rook of Cutcombe market says auctioneers are not looking forward to Tuesdays heifer trade.

In Northern Ireland finishers are also being cautious, reports Shaun Irvine of Ballyclare market. Bullock prices are up £27-£59 a head for various weights. "The biggest call is for those between 250-300kg liveweight with prices over £1/kg driven by subsidy. Heifers, although better than last year, are averaging 55p/kg which is some discount."

Now cold weather has arrived – along with the first subsidy cheques – Richard Wood of Hobb Parkers Ashford market suspects trading will get a further lift. "Its been too mild to have calves inside with a risk of pneumonia. But thats just changed with this cold spell."

And prospects for finishers look good. Steers on blue tickets selling at 90-95p/kg are probably working out at 65p/kg liveweight after the claim, adds Mr Wood. "You can work a profit off that, surely." &#42